The Tynecastle side have excelled on their return to the top flight this season and find themselves in the midst of a six-match unbeaten run, which began with a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Parkhead in September.
While sitting at the summit of table, question marks remain over Ronny Deila’s stewardship at Celtic after they crashed out of the Europa League this week five days after a home stalemate against Kilmarnock.
Six points separate Celtic from second-placed Hearts, but the message emanating from Tynecastle yesterday was clear from the confident Pole: “We are not afraid of Celtic.”
“I think we are good enough to win or stay close to Celtic,” said the 27-year-old. “We win against good teams and we play good football so we can [win the title].
“We can challenge Celtic, we are working hard and we know our team can compete with everyone in this league.
“It’s important not to be afraid against them, it’s only a game. All teams should go on the pitch with empty heads and play as best as they can against Celtic.
“We are definitely not afraid of them, we want to challenge them, we want to play football against them. We are second in the table so we should believe we can win something.”
Augustyn’s claims are likely to be met by disbelief in some quarters, but he insists Hearts can take advantage of Celtic’s weaknesses. “Celtic are not the same team they were two or three years ago, they had different players, they had better players,” he said. “They were winning games in the Champions League. Now they haven’t qualified for the Champions League and finished fourth in their Europa League group. Of course, they have a good team for Scottish football but it doesn’t matter. They can lose and they can win, just like we can. We know we can challenge them and when they come to Tynecastle we will try and show them we can beat them as well.”
However, Augustyn knows fixtures against the likes of Celtic and Aberdeen will be moot if Hearts cannot defeat sides towards the bottom of the Premiership such as Motherwell today. Hearts saw a four-match winning run halted last weekend when they drew 1-1 at home to Dundee – exactly the type of slip-up which often plagues teams with lofty aspirations to challenge Celtic.
“We shouldn’t draw against Dundee but it happens,” said Augustyn. “We just have to keep working and we need to try and beat Motherwell now. Hopefully Celtic will drop some points.”
Motherwell will be boosted by the return of three experienced players, with Stephen McManus free from suspension while Keith Lasley and Steven Hammell are back after injury. Lionel Ainsworth missed training earlier in the week but should be fit. However, Wes Fletcher and Joe Chalmers miss out.